WHEN Aimee Duffy spoke with the Herald a little over a year ago, while perched on a decrepit chair in a back office of her record label in London, she was days away from releasing her first album. Nervous and excited, the 24-year-old was a mixture of quiet confidence and barely controlled insecurity about what would happen to an album of drama-laden neo-soul songs she'd spent four years writing and recording.
That same mix was obvious the night before as this tiny Welshwoman, from a provincial town so small it didn't have a record store, performed in a super-trendy Soho club called the Piccadilly.
The talent was obvious even if the stagecraft was as yet undefined, the voice growing bigger as the night went on, the hair already heading heavenward. And in there was Duffy - the Aimee having long been dropped professionally - working hard to convince herself as much as the audience that she was ready.
"Oh God, you're not going to believe it in March, it's like a totally different person," she says now, perched on a banquette in a Sydney hotel several layers of swank up from that office.
"I think I've stopped apologising. Sorry, sorry I'm singing. Sorry, did I trip over the mic? Sorry. So f---ing what, I'm singing, let's get stuck in together. You're here, I'm here, what's the worst that could happen? You could put it in other ways: was it being shy, was it being coy, was it being afraid? I don't know. But apologising is the only word."
There's not much to apologise for now. That album,Rockferry, was the biggest-selling one in Britain last year and has sold nearly 6 million copies so far around the world. She's won multiple Brit awards (the British Grammy equivalent), was nominated for three Grammys, won one for best pop vocal album and was selected by Paul McCartney to reprise hisLive And Let Die on a charity album. Yeah, it's gone all right.
And what's pleasing Duffy just as much is that people have stopped referring to her as the new Dusty Springfield or the new Amy Winehouse. Sure, they're all white Brits singing a classically black US art form but neither comparison was really appropriate: though she has the big hair and make-up, her voice is nothing like Springfield's; her lifestyle is nothing like Winehouse's.
Still, for Duffy and fellow young British soul singer Adele, and to a certain extent the Australian Gabriella Cilmi, those tags were easy handles for a while.
"It's gone, everything is gone. Which is probably a bit more frightening because before I had certain references but now it's just me on my own," Duffy says.
"It's OK. You want to be recognised for who you are but the moment that happens it's a bit scary. I don't really know what I want any more, to be honest."
Duffy is prone to this kind of comment. Even if she appears at the Grammys in yet another Alberta Ferretti frock, has Tom Jones declaring he wants to work with her or does the chat show and red-carpet circuit gracefully, she doesn't do flippant. Instead she's very earnest and serious, likely to stare at you intently each time you make a feeble attempt at humour. You can't tell whether she didn't get it or just didn't think it was funny.
Although she says she "likes a laugh", she is more inclined to ponder the vicissitudes of a career she chose when she was a teenager.
"It's a funny industry, you know. I'm not hedging my bets because I don't want to put my hopes on it, I suppose, and I'm OK, steady now - fulfilled," Duffy says when asked whether she is pleased now. "Nothing is going to make me feel more fulfilled or less fulfilled and that's probably how I'm going to approach everything now. All the glories, anyway. The music is a different matter."
And in case there's any doubt, even after she reveals that her music obsession for the past year has been that none-more-serious and elusive figure of Scott Walker, she does another typical Duffy thing - happily confess to frailties and, at the same time, strengths.
"I'm going to say it, I think I am a bit fragile. I just think I'm built that way," she offers. "So in order to survive you have to say, OK, I'll decide early on that all these things that come before me are things that I don't have to have.
"You don't have to have anything. Do you have to have the right person in your life? Do you have to have that car? Do you have to have that holiday? No, I'm all right.
"I can be a little bit of a control freak with my music because at least my music's mine, no one can take it away from me. No one can tell me what to do with it so that's what I hold on to in everything. It's the one thing that won't hurt me, really."
Friday, March 20, 2009
20 Mar: Aus Article "The year my voice broke"
The year my voice broke